Tag Archives: continuous improvement

Continuous improvement and training

Continuous Improvement: Avoid Standing Still

By Holly Mockus
1 Comment
Continuous improvement and training

Change and continuous improvement go hand in hand. Any continuous improvement journey is just that—a journey, not an endpoint; it’s a process to get to a better place. Successful operations constantly change to meet the evolving needs of the business and its stakeholders. But change can provide lots of speed bumps, roadblocks and yield signs if not managed from a positive perspective. Consider that faster is not always better—simplicity is usually the best way to get from point A to point B. Here are a few helpful hints to help you manage the change that accompanies continuous improvement.

  • Realize that all things can be improved upon. Whether the improvement is a minor tweak or a major overhaul, objective vision is a must to maintain momentum.
  • Collection of baseline data is important. Data-driven decisions will provide a road map for improvement with the right direction, use of good data and careful interpretation.
  • Measuring the result of any change will either validate your assumptions or provide a pivot point for moving in a new direction.
  • Failure to continually improve is the same as standing still. Don’t let road blocks stop your progress.
  • Sometimes the smallest improvements yield the best results. Fine tuning doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. Don’t be afraid to keep it simple.
  • Change is inevitable, so embrace it. Become an advocate for change through leadership and a positive attitude. Others will follow.
  • Programs that are improved over time will not be taken for granted. Antiquated processes provide diminishing returns, grow stale, and become extinct quickly.
  • Involve all stakeholders in continuous improvement efforts. Getting upfront buy-in instills pride of ownership and helps to ensure success.
  • Train for all changes—whether on the plant floor or an office business process. Up-to-date training is imperative, because adults are creatures of habit. Set your continuous improvement efforts up for success by ensuring that changes have been communicated and reinforced.

Just as in life, effective programs, procedures, and policies are journeys, not destinations. Keeping the journey from becoming an uphill struggle requires a culture of continuous improvement—and a company-wide willingness to embrace change.

Top 10 Tips for Creating a Sustained Food Safety Culture

By Holly Mockus
4 Comments

After much anticipation, FDA has finally published the FSMA final rules. If you’ve had time to dig into the details, you most likely noted the new initiative that requires companies to measure food safety culture. The industry is also seeing SQF, BRC and other GFSI audit schemes ramping up discussions around measuring food safety culture. However, FDA and GFSI audits aside, how do you create a culture for sustained compliance with this initiative? Follow these 10 tips to ensure your food safety culture is constant and in line with the new requirements

Photo credit: Dennis Burnett for Alchemy Systems
Set clear expectations for employees across the board. Photo credit: Dennis Burnett for Alchemy Systems

1: Create a solid foundation of programs, procedures and policies

Have a preset annual schedule for review and update of all programs, procedures and policies. Don’t let the schedule slide because there are competing priorities. A small pebble is all it takes to start ripple effect in the company, making it difficult to recover.

2: Set clear expectations, driven from the top down

Everyone should follow the rules and guidelines—from visitors to the CEO to the plant manager to the hourly employee. A “no exceptions” policy will drive a culture that is sustainable and drive a “this-is-just-how-we-do-things” mindset.

3: Use record keeping to ensure that food safety culture is well documented and data-driven

Collect the data that is measureable and non-subjective to help drive continuous improvement. If you collect it, you must do something with it. Good documentation is imperative to proving you did what you said you were going to do, especially in the event of an audit. Be stringent in training, and review all documentation before it hits the file cabinet to ensure it is accurate and appropriate.

4: Implement a robust continuous improvement process

Forward momentum through a continuous improvement process cannot be achieved unless management nurtures the program. If you are not continuously improving, you are falling behind.

5: Have a 360-degree approach to employee engagement with 24/7 awareness and communication

Top-down communication is critical to highlighting the priorities and needs of an organization and will not be effective unless an organized program is in place. Organizations that are not making the necessary pivots to communicate with the multiple generations within their workplace today will struggle to sustain change.

6: Foster an atmosphere of mutual respect

Treat people as you would like to be treated, turn the other cheek, etc. There may be lots of adages you quote, but which one best describes your facility and the relationships with management and peers on a daily basis?

7: Be sure employees have consumer awareness for the products they produce

Do your employees know who the end consumer is of the product that they are producing every day?  Does your culture include a review of consumer complaints and customer complaints with your frontline workers?  Listening in to a call center is a very powerful way to help employees understand what affects consumers and how their job is critical to avoiding a food safety or quality issue.

8: Create accountability across the board

Hold folks who do not support the culture in which you are striving to develop or maintain accountable, regardless of their position or stature.

9: Provide positive reinforcement. It’s the best motivator

Work to catch people doing things right and make a big fuss when you do. Positive reinforcement for a job well done is the most powerful motivator. It helps keep every team member on board with food safety commitments.

10: Celebrate often

We spend too much time at work not to celebrate all the good things that are accomplished. Whether it’s a cake and recognition for those that served in the armed forces on Veterans Day or a successful launch of a new product—celebrations are a great way to recognize and reinforce your employees’ hard work. Identifying and correcting mistakes should also be celebrated; they are fertile ground for making changes and provide great nutrients for continuous improvement.

Make Your Data More Meaningful

By Maria Fontanazza
1 Comment

Data can be a very powerful tool, but only if it is used in an effective manner. It needs to be easily consumable and understood by all levels within an organization. “It’s great to collect information, but if you don’t do something with it, you’re not doing yourself, your facility or your employees any favors,” says Holly Mockus, product manager at Alchemy Systems. “It can really trip you up during a regulatory inspection to have all of this information that you haven’t looked at, tracked, trended or reacted to.”

As FSMA places more importance on documentation and record keeping, FDA-regulated facilities will need to not only capture information but also translate data into easily digestible content for management and employees in order to drive continuous improvement. In a discussion with Food Safety Tech, Mockus shares some key points on how companies can transform their data from numbers and statistics into meaningful and actionable information.

  1. Collect meaningful data from the start. From the beginning of the data collection process, be mindful of exactly what outcome the organization wants to achieve. Having an understanding that the data will be measured and acted upon encourages facilities to avoid gathering information just for the sake of collecting it.
  2. Involve the employees who actually collect the data. Data is more meaningful when employees understand why they’re gathering information and are involved in the process from the beginning.
  3. React to the data. If the information reveals a good or bad trend, or that a process or procedure is out of spec, take action. In addition, document how the business reacted to the issue and the corrections that were put in place.
  4. Close the loop for continuous improvement. Establish a closed loop for data collection, focusing on how gaps were addressed, with an emphasis on continuously improving on the process.
  5. Really examine the data collected. Whether collected for a product, process or equipment line, sit down and take a close look at the data. This exercise is intended to reveal redundancies across departments and help reduce record keeping tasks.

Food Safety Tech: How do companies transform data into a meaningful tool for management?

Mockus: That’s such a challenge for us. It should be easily consumable, especially for management and the higher ups in organizations, because they don’t have as much time to sit down and digest a 20-page document that’s full of numbers and statistics. Work towards to summarizing the information in a way that allows executives and plant managers to look at a graph and know instantly what it means; they don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty. Simplifying the scientific data, whether environmental sampling, quality assurance data, or microtesting in general, and taking it down to base a level so that the non-scientist can understand it—I think that’s something we have to work on, especially for those coming under more regulation. Keep in mind that people who look at the tracking and trending [might not] understand graphs and scientific terms.

A lot of people put the data into a graphic format—it doesn’t have to be a line graph or pie chart, it can be a red, yellow, green [indicator] or a scale of justice. Look at the graphics that are meaningful to your specific organization and use those. Be creative, but keep it simple.

FST: When companies set metrics, how can they ensure that those metrics are taking them in the right direction from a food safety perspective?

Mockus: Especially when you have metrics that are tied to performance for a manufacturing facility, you want to be careful how you set them and how you reward them. For example, if your metric for environmental testing is very low or at zero, you’re encouraging your workforce not to find those Listeria niches or areas in which Salmonella can grow, because you’re telling them that they have to be at a zero rate to be incentivized. It’s more about measuring the outcomes of the activities—are we finding the niches and eliminating them so we don’t have those issues versus saying we want to be at “zero”? [It’s important] to work with upper management so that they understand the consequences of their expectations and the incentive programs that they put in place.

Mobile FSQA apps

Are Mobile Apps a Game Changer for Food Safety Professionals?

By Maria Fontanazza
No Comments
Mobile FSQA apps

Many food safety and quality assurance (FSQA) professionals are constantly on the go in the workplace. They can be found on the floor of a manufacturing facility, off-site conducting supplier audits, or out in the field performing pre-harvest inspections, just to name a few locations during their busy day. “To benefit from food safety automation, these folks need more than the capability of logging into a system through a desktop,” says Levin. “They need a true mobile app that provides automation support out in the field,” says Barbara Levin, senior vice president of marketing and customer community at SafetyChain.

While other industries have been quick to adopt mobile platforms, the food safety industry has been much slower. Adoption is, however, gaining traction. In a recent conversation with Food Safety Tech, Levin talks about the value of FSQA mobile apps in today’s environment, where access to real-time, actionable data is crucial for the food industry.

Food Safety Tech: What common challenges faced by FSQA teams do mobile apps specifically address?

Barbara Levin: Mobile apps allow collection of FSQA at the point of origin, along with immediate access to the information for analysis, CAPA and reporting:

  1. Getting timely feedback on non-compliances for CAPA. When FSQA data is inspected at the end of the shift on paper, finding non-conformances often means rework. The instances in which this happens are too numerous to count. With mobile apps, you receive timely feedback. Information in the system is immediately analyzed to specs, so you’re catching non-compliances at the earliest point possible.
  2. Consistency in following your FSQA programs. This could be your USDA HACCP plan, FSMA HARPC plan, GFSI program, customer quality attributes and other components of your FSQA programs. Program components change all the time (i.e., Specifications, processes, rules in HACCP, GFSI code, forms, workflow, etc). Are FSQA managers confident that everyone is following the most up-to-date program? Is everyone following the workflow and doing everything in the right order? Are they completing tasks accurately? Using the right forms? Unfortunately companies find out that steps are missed or outdated forms were used during an audit; or when missed steps result in expensive rework or in the worst case, a customer rejection, withdrawal or a recall.

    Mobile apps will always have the most up-to-date forms, processes, specs and more. They act as a coach, leading the FSQA team member through the proper steps. When you enter incorrect or incomplete information on paper, it may not be detected until the end of the day or shift. A mobile app will issue an alert if incorrect information is entered; and it won’t let you submit a form if all fields aren’t complete. Because all of the updates are made in the system and pushed out to the app, if the specification changes while an FSQA team member is on the plant floor, when he or she logs in, the latest spec will always be there. You’re ensured that only the up-to-date program is being followed and that only the most up-to-date forms are being used.

  3. A lack of information for continuous improvement trending. If you have multiple facilities and products (resulting in mountains of FSQA paper), it’s a huge, manual task to make all of the data useful and relevant. With mobile apps, all FSQA data is entered “once and done,” making it accessible and actionable for immediate FSQA result tracking, daily KPI reporting and continuous improvement.
  4. Audit readiness. Mobile apps take audit readiness to a different level. With FSMA and GFSI, the saying is, if it’s not documented, you didn’t do it. By collecting FSQA data at the point of origin, all data is time and data stamped and uploaded to your permanent FSQA record. There’s no redundant data entry, mistakes are avoided, and there’s greater record efficacy that helps companies be audit ready, on demand.
Mobile FSQA apps
Mobile forms capture safety and quality data at the point of origin; data is actionable and then uploaded into a central repository for reporting and audit readiness. Image courtesy of SafetyChain Software. (Click to enlarge)

FST: What is the biggest benefit that FSQA mobile apps offer? 

Levin: The first benefit is real-time feedback. If you think about how things were done in the past, using an example of a pre-harvest inspection, you’re out there with a clipboard, making observations and recording non-compliances. Then you have to go back and enter the information into a spreadsheet, or turn it into a PDF, and send it to the food safety manager, who may or may not be sitting at his or her desk. Waiting to get a response equals time lost. And in the food industry, time equals money.

When you’re entering information into a mobile app, it analyzes that information in real-time and according to specifications. When there are non-compliances, alerts are pushed to the FSQA manager – wherever [he or she is located]. The manager can then generate a CAPA, which can then be completed, documented on the mobile device and electronically signed off by the manager. The process is expedited, and expensive rework is avoided.  

The second benefit involves data efficiencies. When data is collected on a mobile device, it’s entered only once and is then immediately available for multiple uses, such as a customer’s certificate of analysis, attachment to GFSI code for audit, or to be produced upon demand for a regulatory inspector. With a manual system, there’s a tremendous amount of redundant data entry. We hear this all the time from food safety folks— that they feel like they’re managing paper instead of food safety programs. When data is entered into a mobile app, it’s accessible immediately to FSQA, operations, vendor purchasing, management – any stakeholder who has a need.

“The Power of FSQA Automation Via Mobile Applications” Download the whitepaperFST: What approach should be taken to encourage the investment in and implementation of an on-the-go FSQA mobile platform?

Levin: I would love to think that in an ideal world, the creation of operational efficiencies that enable a higher level of confidence that you are sending out safer food is enough. Food companies are businesses, and they have obligations to consumers, which they take very seriously. But they also have obligations to their shareholders. When we talk to folks who really want this, it’s very easy to create a business case to senior management based on ROI. When you can close the gap by hours and days in the food industry, that time equals money. Avoiding rework also saves money.  And there’s ROI in faster sales throughput and increased shelf life by reducing hold and release times. We’ve heard from our customers that the solutions have paid for themselves and started to create ROI within three to six months.